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Geographic Information System Mapping


A geographic information system (GIS) is a digital system for capturing, managing, analysing and displaying all forms of spatial data – data that is in some way referenced to a location.

Common geographical references within the British Isles are addresses and/or postcodes (WC1B 4SE, for example) or British National Grid coordinates (such as 530397, 181701). Traditionally, five core components are required to establish a GIS. They are:

  • Hardware – the computer which runs the GIS software (a PC, mobile device or server, for instance)
  • Software – the application software used to store, analyse, and display geographic data (off the shelf or developed for specific purposes)
  • Data – consists of spatial data (co-ordinates) and attribute data (additional information about the location)
  • People – users who understand GIS concepts and how to apply the technology to real world problems
  • Procedures – applications of geographic information to real world problem solving.

GIS software solutions vary greatly in complexity, from a single user with GIS software installed on their desktop PC, to tailored server and cloud-based GIS services that are fully integrated into an organisation’s business-critical systems. 

A huge variety of sectors use GIS software, ranging from utilities (to manage supply networks) to police forces (to analyse crime hot spots). Within Sport England, GIS is used within the Active Places Power and Market Segmentation websites and also internally for ad hoc mapping and analysis.

Football pitches from the sky

Frequently asked questions

  • How can an Active Partnership use the tool with partners?

    As a minimum, Active Partnerships should understand how GIS can be used. Most if not all local authorities and universities will have GIS setups with expert users. We have limited capacity to perform bespoke work and so partners should seek to use our existing online tools.

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  • What are the costs?

    GIS costs can vary greatly depending on requirements. However, the traditional high costs associated with data and software are now significantly lower.

    Software applications such as ArcGIS Online and Google Earth are now available online and significant amounts of data are being made freely available. Always check the terms and conditions of use.

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  • What can it be used for?

    In addition to the above, the following gives an example of some simple analysis. By mapping investment data through postcode references, the following questions can be asked that would have been difficult to answer had the information been in a table.

    The data mentioned in this example can be replaced by any other datasets for similar analysis, such as national governing body clubs, Active Places facilities, Places People Play investments, and so on:

    • What is the distribution of investments across a region?
    • How does this investment relate to priority groups areas?
    • Which areas might be considered for future investment?
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  • What will it tell me?

    GIS helps answer questions and solve problems by visualising and analysing data in a way that’s quickly understood and easily shared. Relationships, patterns, and trends can be revealed in the form of maps, reports and charts.

    The power of GIS is its ability to overlay datasets that previously may have had nothing in common. GIS is able to:

    • Map where things are – lets you find places that have the features you’re looking for and see where to take action. Further questions may then be asked to determine why features are located within these areas and not other areas. For example, mapping a national governing body’s club network to identify areas for future development
    • Map quantities – to show where most and least are, helping to identify places that meet certain criteria and take action or to see the relationships between places. For example, an investment scheme to develop initiatives in areas of high deprivation
    • Find what’s nearby – find out what’s occurring within a set distance of a feature by mapping what’s nearby either via a straight line distance catchment areas (a five-mile radius, for example) or drive time catchment areas (within a 20-minute drive, for example) that uses a road network. For example, a sports facility profiles the population within a 20-minute walk of its facility to determine the most appropriate activities and services for the local population.
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  • What won’t it tell me?

    A GIS can perform many analytical functions on the input datasets. However, the quality of the analysis will always be determined by the quality (accuracy, completeness, currency) of the data.

    The interpretation of results requires a good understanding of the data being used and the analytical tasks being performed. Having a clear idea of the questions to ask of the data at the outset of your analysis is critical.

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  • Where can I find out more?

    You can find out more via the following websites:

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